Tender Morsels ~ by Margo Lanagan, is the co-winner of the World Fantasy Award for 2009.
It is a dark and disturbing retelling of a fairytale for young adults which is wonderfully creative yet one which not everyone will enjoy.
Set Up: This story is a version of the tale Rose Red and Snow White. A story with two young sister whose names are in the title live in a forest with their mother and become friends with a bear. According to the link there is no connection to the American version or any other version of Snow White.
Unlike the actual tale, and with some artistic license,Margo Lanagan gives it depth and interest with the inclusion of an actual bear event set in Europe. The author apparently viewed a festival on television prior to writing the story and therefore included it in the retelling. Also unlike the original the setting is within two parallel worlds connected by magic. Where the “real world” is a version of our past being lit only by fire. The second world is “the false world” or that “of the heart’s desire”, and is an idealized version or our world. All created in desperation by the main character Liga (the girls’ mother), through personal trauma, her inability to deal with reality, and to keep her daughters safe.
My Thoughts: There are many things I like about the book. The writing is evocative and disturbing; the language used is set in period with an English/Australian bent, making it feel old and rural; the book cover renditions support some of the major themes within the story (I am highly visual); and the evil characters are given a perspective which helps the reader to sympathize with them – because that's what happens in real life.
It is a wonderfully complex rendition of the original story. It is multilayered where the author brings in some important themes, two of which are Women’s issues around social oppression and strength.
Here is a quote which shows the oppressiveness of the social structure of the real world compared to the “heart’s desire” world:
Annie peered and grinned. “Heh-heh. There is nothing like upbringing up in a heaven to give a girl a false confidence.”
“False, you think?” said Liga anxiously, dropping the lace back across the windo.
“The size o’ that mob, Liga? I say false. Get yourself dressed, girl, in your very best; we will need to summon all the menfolk and all the respectability we can, if she’s not to be whipped in the street.”
To be raised in an environment with no constraints one may have a false confidence about one’s ability to counter social mores of a present society, no matter how warranted they are.
Another quote regarding one woman’s strength:
…She, Urdda, must see that place someday, where women dressed so beautifully yet so plain, rode about alone. No one would dare spit upon this woman, or call out at her. She had a different kind of boldness, a strength that did not defy that of men so much as ignore it, or take its place without question beside it – Urdda wanted some of that boldness.
A wonderful role model for young women.
Be forewarned this is not a light story, and addresses some very very dark and difficult issues. It is not a story which everyone is going to enjoy or even like.
Tender Morsels won the World Fantasy Award for 2009 covering the year 2008. Personally, I can see why. I love dark fantasy which touches on important social issues and is also well written. This is exceptional. I have given this story a rare 5 stars.